Monday, October 30, 2006

Licensing Naturopaths?

Q: Licensing Naturopaths?I just became aware of the ongoing effort to license naturopathic physicians. I was shocked. Aren??t these physicians already licensed?

A: Surprising as it may seem, naturopathic physicians are licensed to practice in only 14 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In April 2005, Idaho became the most recent state to pass a licensing law. You may also be surprised to know that without licensing, anyone can obtain a "degree" to practice naturopathic medicine through correspondence courses or just hang out a shingle in most states.

In the 14 states that do require licensing, naturopathic physicians must be graduates of accredited four-year schools. Legislative efforts are ongoing elsewhere, and we soon may be hearing about licensing laws passing in more states. In Canada, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan license naturopaths.

Physician-level NDs are trained not only in natural modalities but in biomedical sciences as well. The first two years of naturopathic medical education are dedicated to the medical sciences and include courses in cadaver anatomy, biochemistry, pathophysiology, and neuroanatomy that are similar in content and length to the courses required for medical doctors. In the second two years of education, students can undertake the study of systems (e.g., cardiology, gynecology, and gastroenterology) and populations (e.g., pediatrics, geriatrics). Throughout their education, NDs are steeped in naturopathic principles and the study and application of natural therapies such as clinical nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, physical medicine, and health counseling.

Having spent most of my professional career working with healthcare providers all over the world, from the conventional, alternative, and complementary professions, I value the critical role that NDs play in the emerging field of integrative medicine.

At the Program in Integrative Medicine here at the University of Arizona, NDs are an essential part of our multidisciplinary clinic team. I see many possibilities for MDs and NDs to work collaboratively to meet the needs of their patients.
Andrew Weil, M.D.

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